From The “What Were They Thinking?” Files, Corporate Section: The Lands’ End Gloria Steinem Debacle

"Wait...Gloria Steinem is political????"

“Wait…Gloria Steinem is political????”

Clothing retailer Land’s End lost its collective mind and chose Gloria Steinem as the first interview in the company’s “Legends Series,”a new feature in the Lands’ End’s catalog and website. What were they thinking? Steinem’s presence is inherently political. A company spotlighting her isn’t like a news medium interview: it looks like an endorsement. This is an election year. Not only is Steinem divisive between men and women, pro- and anti-abortion activists, radical feminists and more traditional women, old feminists and new feminists, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, but even among Democrats and progressives. Steinem is campaigning for Hillary Clinton, after all.

I know what the company’s management  was thinking, if you can call it that. They thought this was a great way to attract the young female market, you know, like having more pink in the ad artwork, or mentioning “Twilight.”

So guess what happened. Land’s End was inundated with protests from customers who said they wouldn’t shop there any more. Did you guess? Sure you did. Why didn’t Land’s End? With all the relatively benign, non-controversial figures to profile, what dimwit in marketing chose Gloria Steinem? What lazy executives approved it? This is business incompetence writ Jupiter size.

Having made an astoundingly stupid mistake, Land’s End had no choice but to retrench, and pull the feature. This was unavoidable, and the right thing to do, as in competent. Political, partisan figures representing contentious social and political issues don’t belong in a merchandiser’s catalogue, unless that merchandiser wants to identify itself with ideological and political camps, like Ben and Jerry’s, and risk alienating a portion of its market. It especially doesn’t do this when an emotional issue like abortion is involved. Even Ben and Jerry haven’t come up with a flavor called Late-Term-A-Portion Peach, or Planned Parent-Good Peppermint, or Gosnell Gooseberry.

(Yet.)

Once the completely predictable push-back began, Land’s End management had an ethical duty to its stockholders to try to stem a disaster of its own making. In a prepared statement, a company spokesperson said,

“We greatly respect and appreciate the passion people have for our brand. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw a recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”

If the company really chose Gloria Steinem as its first “legend” and had no intention to raise “divisive political or religious issues,” I’d sell that Land’s End stock if I were you, because the company is managed by Barbary Apes. Was Kim Davis going to be its next legend? Would it be similarly shocked if its gay and thinking customers found offense with that? Oh, probably. Next up: Dan Savage, then Pat Robertson, and maybe Trayvon Martin’s mother. “What? Controversial? We had no idea!” Continue reading